SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Open from behind the 3-point line in the closing seconds, Robert Horry let sail what looked like another incredible game-winning shot.
Only this time, it went in—and out. And now the Los Angeles Lakers are one loss from the end of their run of three straight championships.
The Spurs never trailed en route to taking a 3-2 series lead. But had Horry’s shot gone in, San Antonio would’ve blown a 25-point lead one game after letting a 16-point lead slip away.
“When we figure out how to stop someone in the fourth quarter, or score in the fourth quarter, we’re going to be dangerous,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson returned three days after undergoing a heart procedure, only to see his team play lethargically for three quarters. Now the Lakers must win the next two games, or their postseason will end the same way it did the last time they failed to win it all—going down to San Antonio in the conference semifinals. That was in 1999, when the Spurs won the title.
Game 6 is Thursday night in Los Angeles, with a possible Game 7 in San Antonio on Saturday. The Lakers are 0-5 this season at the Spurs’ new home, the SBC Center.
“We’re a tough team to put out,” said Kobe Bryant, who led Los Angeles with 36 points. “It has something to do with luck, something to do with our grit, our fight. Game 6, we’re going to give it our all.”
The Lakers have three losses in a series for only the third time during their championship run. They trailed Sacramento 3-2 last season and were tied at 3 against Portland in the 2000 conference finals.
Against the Kings, Horry won Game 4 with a 3-pointer. Many of the 18,797 in the arena had flashbacks to that shot when he put up this one from the left side with no defender in his way.
“When he shot it, I was thinking about the Sacramento shot,” Robinson said. “I was thinking, `Please don’t go in.”’
Bryant was ready to celebrate when Horry’s shot went up. It wound up being his sixth 3-point miss of the game and dropped him to 0-for-15 behind the arc this series.
“It looked like perfect arc, good rotation. It looked like it was going in. It rattled around and came out,” Bryant said. “He’s made so many before tonight. If he has another opportunity in the next game, I’ll give it to him again.”
Although Shaquille O’Neal had the three-point play that got Los Angeles within one with 19.7 seconds left, he finished with only 20 points and 12 rebounds.
His play was sluggish, and he wasn’t on court for the first half of the fourth quarter. Jackson said the comeback might not have started if he had been.
“We needed active defense and we needed aggressive play out there. Shaquille was not active tonight—he didn’t move well defensively, he didn’t get back on defense,” Jackson said. “It hurt us a little bit.”
That it even came down to the last shot was stunning, considering the only time the game was tied was 2-2. The Spurs controlled the first three quarters and still led 87-71 with 7:21 to play.
Then the Lakers went on a 15-3 run to get within four, prompting Duncan to slam the ball down while calling a timeout. A beautiful alley oop from Duncan to Robinson, who had six points after going scoreless in Game 4, restored a seven-point lead.
A 3-pointer by Bryant and the three-point play by O’Neal set up Horry’s near-heroics.
Los Angeles also was helped by Stephen Jackson missing a free throw with 15.1 seconds left. The Spurs were just 4-of-9 from the line in the fourth quarter.
“I did everything right,” Horry said. “It just didn’t go in.”
The Lakers are going uphill in their bid to become the first four-time champion since the Boston Celtics won their eighth straight title in 1966. Jackson also has a big streak on the line, having won his last 26 playoff series, including six championships.
“We’re going to go back and win one, and we’re going to come back here and find a way to win No. 7,” said Jackson, who on Saturday had an angioplasty toopen a heart artery that was more than 90 percent blocked.
Los Angeles’ Stanislav Medvedenko had 13 points in 17 minutes, including seven in the fourth quarter. … After seeing O’Neal and Bryant dominate the early scoring in Game 4, the Lakers’ first 12 points came from all five starters. … Phil Jackson got as much sympathy as expected from an opposing crowd. One fan held a sign that read, “Phil, whining about the refsis bad for your heart.”